Relationship between Pain Medication and the United States’ Heroin Addiction

Among a string of complications that patients have to deal with, chronic pain ranks highest with regard to the level of distraught and discomfort it causes to its sufferers. Nevertheless, medical practitioners are increasingly facing emergencies with persons exhibiting chronic pain, with their sole duty in such a case being to alleviate it. Ostensibly, the healthcare system has often seen it fit to institute the use of painkillers as the first line of treatment. This disposition stems from the fact that using painkillers has for a long time been thought as the quickest and the most cost-effective treatment method for managing chronic pain. It’s hailed for its effectiveness in dealing with recurring pain and conditions that do not normally respond effectively to traditional pain management techniques.

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Estimates by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) put the figure of individuals using pain medication to manage chronic aches as 117 million in the United States alone, with the figure expected to rise in subsequent years (Anitescu, Benzon, & Wallace, 2018, p. 67). Concerns, about the use of prescription painkillers, stems from the relationship it possible shares with a rise in the number of heroin addicts across the United States. As of 2016, it was estimated that 9.8 million Americans were struggling with heroin addiction, with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health linking it with opiates use among chronic pain sufferers (Lembke, 2016, p. 78).  What further worsens this scenario is that heroin and its derivatives feature greatly in medicine meant to treat alcohol and other forms of drug addiction. From the premise above, this essay seeks to prove that pain medication is indeed a leading cause of heroin addiction while also providing effective alternatives to properly manage the epidemic.

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Pain medication acts as a gateway to heroin addiction since, in most cases, opioid narcotics are seen as a viable option by doctors in managing aches. Medications from this particular family are known for their efficiency in dealing with cases of acute and chronic aches in patients making it a popular option. Pain medication causes the central nervous system focus to shift to antagonists, which are sites for the opioid receptors. In other cases, the affected person’s receptors may be activated leading to immediate relief from pain that might have dogged the individual for a considerable amount of time. Codeine, Vicodin, and Percocet are prescription drugs commonly recommended by physicians to manage chronic pain in patients.  A typical side effect of opioid pain medication is that the individuals in question may inadvertently experience analgesia and euphoria after intake. All this occurs at specific periods, during which the sedative effect becomes apparent, with the individuals finding it useful in managing their pain. Medical practitioners are often aware of the risk of addiction to these drugs, preferring to provide them on the prescription basis to ensure that patients are soon off the drugs (Anitescu, Benzon, & Wallace, 2018). Nevertheless, they often fail to take into account the effect that continued opioid use has on the body’s reward system. Dopamine receptors are eroded, kicking off strong urges to quench urgent opioid craving. It’s vital to remember that buying illegal substances in the United States is much easier than purchasing legal prescription drugs without a doctor’s recommendation, making it easy to acquire heroin as a substitute drug. Persons who had their pain medication discontinued often succumb to self-medication, with heroin being their preferred drug of choice. To them, it acts as a perfect surrogate for the medication they were formerly put on to aid them lead life without distress. . Continued heroin use as a pain treatment alternative that also induces euphoria ultimately results in addiction with the person in question finding it difficult to kick the habit autonomously.

Commonly abused powerful opiates
Commonly abused powerful opiates

Continued use of pain medication ultimately leads to opioid tolerance, heroin serving as the only alternative readily available. The average amount of time that individuals are put on pain medication often ranges from six to eight months, which is enough time for tolerance to a drug to form. According to Adams (2007), this scenario manifests itself through the increase of acute pain which seems unmanageable even with an immense increase in the opioid dose (p. 59). In the human body, pain functions more like a sensory signal. The thousands of neurons solely dedicated to pain permeate the brain making it rather easy for opioid pain medication to exert their effect on the patient’s mu-opioid receptor. Similarly, these receptors are responsible for the release of dopamine, related to a patient’s use of pain medication, reducing their sensitivity significantly. Fewer mu-opioid receptors are released after using the medication continually; forcing the said individual to flood their system with more of the drug to experience its previous effects (Ballantyne & Tauben, 2013). Physical tolerance, therefore, deems pain medication useless, with heroin being their only feasible option. In most cases, addiction stems from an immediate urge to quell the pain together while ensuring that the body is in its accustomed state of euphoria. Heroin emerges as the only drug capable of handling such a bodily state because it’s readily available and can be acquired on a whim. Though classified as a Class A drug, heroin is abundant in the United States due to the permeation of criminal gangs and an increase in organized crime. The bureaucracy present in the American healthcare system inadvertently means that there are various impediments to acquiring a refill for one’s medication without a doctor’s prescription. On the other hand, drug dealers do not require such documentation to provide a patient with their preferred opioid, which makes the whole process of acquiring heroin even much easier.

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The rise in heroin addiction across the United States is as a result of physicians using narcotic opioids as their first strategy in dealing with pain. What usually starts off as a harmless attempt to assuage chronic pain often ends in disaster when the introduction of this particular substance marks the start of an addiction. In reality, physicians should exploit all available options before finally resorting to recommending opiate pain medication as a strategy in managing the aches that might be experienced at any given moment. Medical pundits even go as far as opining that the prescription of opiate pain medication should only be limited to surgery patients and persons involved in serious accidents (Quinones, 2015). By so doing, the number of persons using opiates as their only pain management skill will drop, and with it the numbers of those addicted to heroin.  Effective pain management programs will also include plans to get their opioid pain medication off the drug once they begin their recovery phase. There is a high possibility that continued use of these chemical substances may cause dependency and tolerance to a particular drug, ultimately driving them to heroin addiction. Healthcare facilities need to ensure that they look into the provision of residential medical detoxification to remove any drug residue from the subject’s system. Such an elaborate arrangement ensures that all traces of the drug are non-existent, allowing the body to acclimatize to functioning at optimum condition without requiring opioids. In addition to this caregivers need to ensure that they introduce new pain management techniques as a relief method during this phase as the patients are gradually let off the drugs. A specialist often provides TENs Units and the even more popular biofeedback method in ensuring that there is an alternative option ready to aid them to alleviate the pain during this difficult and trying time.

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In finality, the rise in heroin addiction in the United States has for a long time been a source of great concern for medical experts. There is sufficient evidence now linking this sudden state of affairs with the use of pain medication and has been proven, time and again, that opioids in these substances are a primary causative agent leading to heroin addiction. Listing pain medication as the first line of defense is one of the main reason why the number of heroin addicts has been soaring each year. Medical practitioners need to come to terms with this reality and develop substitutes that can then be used as conventional pain management methods to reduce cases of heroin addiction. Moreover, doctors need to ensure that patients do not develop tolerance by ensuring that precautionary measures are taken in weaning them off any opioids. Taking appropriate steps in curbing heroin addiction is ensuring in that individuals avoid being hooked to a habit-forming drug capable of ruining their lives completely.

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